Sharks and Blues both under pressure to deliver

2012-04-11 00:00

THE Sharks and the Blues will be in opposite corners at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday but they have one thing in common — their supporters are becoming increasingly grumpy.

The pressure is far more on the Blues, with all their All Blacks, than the Sharks, with all their Springboks, because the Auckland team are playing at home and are expected to win.

The Blues, strongly favoured as title contenders at the start of the tournament, have lost five of their six games and are rooted at the bottom of the log. The Sharks are lying mid-table with three wins while their four losses have been on the road and they will have the advantage of a string of home games when they return to South Africa this weekend.

But the Sharks supporters, and the coaching staff, are unhappy with the patchy form of their team and the losses on tour — to the Waratahs and the Hurricanes — came in matches which they should have won.

“Our set-piece has definitely improved,” said Plumtree, “and the lineouts are functioning well. We are creating attacking opportunities, but against the Hurricanes we were a bit predictable.

“And certainly, from a defensive perspective, we need to be a lot more accurate with our one-on-one tackling,” he added.

Blues coach Pat Lam is taking flak from all angles with the team discipline under question following allegations of late night partying following their upset weekend defeat to the Rebels in Melbourne.

Lam’s players have been in trouble before with Peter and Francis Saili suspended for two weeks after a late night on the South African tour.

But Lam said he had no problem with his players.

“I know after games we’re no different from other teams. The players showed up the next morning and they were fine. We had no issues.”

Lam did concede yesterday that the coaching staff and the talented players were not on the same wavelength.

“It is about being together on the same sheet. That’s important because that’s what effectively has cost us at different times, someone is thinking one thing and another is doing something else.

“So it doesn’t matter how good you are if you are not a team. That’s where we have to keep coming together as a team.”

He said they had to work as a unit against the Sharks to break the trend.

Lam said he was waiting for medical reports on a number of players — including captain Keven Mealamu (calf), Tony Woodcock (achilles), Brad Mika (knee) and Benson Stanley (calf) — who were injured in Melbourne.

Wing David Raikuna would not be ready, he said, but Daniel and Luke Braid were available after injury and suspension.

“This lack of cohesion happens when you are down in confidence,” Lam said, adding that he was ignoring public demands to stand down as coach.

“Momentum is a big thing and so is confidence. Some teams have got it and some haven’t and we are one of those who haven’t at the moment and we just have to keep working to get it,” he said.

Plumtree knows that the Blues, just as the Hurricanes did against the Sharks last Friday, will be desperate to turn their season around.

“They have suffered a number of injuries which is obviously quite frustrating for them. Certainly the Blues’ coaching staff are under a lot of pressure, the senior players have come in for criticism as well, and we’re aware of what we’re walking into.

“A team that goes through those types of emotions, comes through hungry,” Plumtree said, “and they will be tough to beat at Eden Park.

“They should have beaten the Hurricanes and lost in the last minute and we know what a good side they can be. We need to make sure we’re a lot better side this week than we were in New Plymouth.”

The match kicks off at 9.35 am (SA time) on Friday.

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